Sunday, July 26, 2020

Those Round White Lacy Things...

by Cindy Regnier

Did your grandma crochet doilies and have one on end tables or displayed across a dresser top? Mine did and it’s a great memory. Many of them are still treasured keepsakes in my family. Today, the word doily might make you think of dark wood furniture in old homes with doilies scattered about. It might surprise you to learn that doilies are still popular today, whether Grandma crocheted them or you bought them at the local department store.

The word ‘doily’ originated from the surname Doiley, a London firm that made fringed napkins in the 1700s according to “Homes and Antiques”. Those napkins were not crocheted. Actually, crochet as we know it today hasn’t been around that long. Opinions differ on its origin but the earliest mention of crocheting was in a Swedish magazine in 1819. By 1844 cotton was being mercerized to make the thread stronger so it would hold its shape better. During the Irish Famine of 1846 nuns taught it to students who sold their doilies as a means of helping to support the convent. This is where the technique of Irish Crochet developed.

In the Victorian era. Well-born young ladies were taught to make doilies as they were expected to have a supply in their hope chests. As well as being decorative, they were used in serving food and protecting delicate furniture.

According to Good Housekeeping, 1905, doilies were placed beneath toast, rolls or muffins. It should fit inside the rim of the plate without hanging over the sides. In a New York times article published in 1909, doilies were placed beneath the finger bowl. According to the article, “For less formal use the finger bowl is set upon a doily on the dessert plate and is removed with its doily and set at one side of the plate until needed. It is bad form to pass a finger bowl without a plate and doily under it. The latter should never be omitted, though it is sometimes done ignorantly.”

In The Etiquette and Service of the Table, written by the Department of Domestic Science, Kansas State Agricultural College, dated 1916, it states that “At breakfast and at luncheon the table-cloth is sometimes discarded, and a center piece, with an individual doily for each article to be set upon the table, is used.” It also states that the water pitcher is placed upon a small plate or tray, on which there may be a doily. The assumption is for the doily to soak up any condensation. (Hey, it’s a thing. I actually went to college at this place now known as Kansas State University. I don’t think I ever saw a doily there, however.)

In 1920, Everyman’s Encyclopedia of Etiquette by Emily Holt discusses the use of doilies at the luncheon table. “…the service plate must be laid upon a doily of suitable size which in its turn rests upon an asbestos pad. The water glass also stands on a small doily toward the centre and at the right of the service plate, and on a slightly larger doily at the left stands the bread-and-butter plate with a small silver knife lying flat across it.”

I’ve seen old pictures from inside my great-grandmother’s home of very intricately crocheted doilies draped over the top of a piano and over the backs and arms of chairs. I sure wish I knew what happened to them.


Though now yellowed, they still show her lovely craftsmanship
I still have the doilies my great-grandmother crocheted to fit the shelves of her rounded front china cabinet.

Since the 1970s craft publications have offered patterns for all kinds of doilies. You can make them colored, in shapes such as angels or owls, even incorporate them into your wardrobe by applying one to the front of a t-shirt. They are also popular in the wedding world where miniature doily dresses make shower invitations.

Brides use them in their hair, as a hanky, even an entire wedding gown may be made from doilies. Oriental Trading states on its website, “Decorate in lovely vintage style when you add these handmade doilies to your wedding decorations! Place them under centerpieces, votive candle holders or under jars of sweets on your candy buffet. They add a timeless elegance to your event.” I have some patterns that show how to make a quilt from doilies. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Doilies are usually made from cotton thread. In one of my books, an editor advised me to change the term “ball of crochet thread” to “yarn.” I refused. I think we settled on something like “string” since it was being described by a man. Take my word for it. Crochet thread is very different from yarn and requires a whole different kind of equipment as well as technique.

Today doilies are mass-produced, you don’t have to crochet them.
Bargain bin doilies
But if you’re like me, the old-fashioned hand-crocheted doilies are treasured heirlooms. So how do you know the difference? Perfection. If it’s perfect, it’s likely mass-produced. Look for tension differences, missed stitches, or a bit of thread beginning to come unraveled. Grandma was pretty much perfect, but even her crochet had the little differences that make it even more valuable to her granddaughters.
A few of Grandma's doilies. Aren't they beautiful?

Rand Stafford isn't looking for true love. He'd ridden that trail until his fiancée left him with a shattered heart. What he needs now is a wife to help him care for his orphan nieces. Fleeing her former employer who would use her to further his unlawful acts, a newspaper advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly Blair. Hiding on a cattle ranch in Kansas is her best shot for freedom.


  1. I have many fond memories of seeing doilies on the arms of chairs. As a young girl, I was taught to keep those doilies clean and in place. :-)

    1. Easier said than done - right Melissa?

  2. Thank you for standing up to your editor and not calling crochet "yarn". It's "thread", my nana called it that! Great post! Working with crochet thread eludes me somehow, it's not as forgiving as yarn and I have trouble with tension. I may try again once I retire, though!!

    1. Me too, Connie. Yarn is easier for my uncoordinated fingers, I guess. I admired how Grandma could do it so fast and barely need to look at it.

  3. I love this, Cindy. Your grandmother's doilies are beautiful! Thanks for such a fun, interesting post!

  4. Laura, thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. I so appreciate you!

  5. I have a number of doilies that look just like your grandmother's and they were crocheted by my grandmother. I love them and I have a number of them I still use and I framed three of them and hung them in our guest bedroom. My step-grandmother crocheted a set for the arms and back of 2 easy chairs. The ones for the back have my dad and step-mom's initials on either side of a larger W for their last name Whiteman. The are still on the back of the two chairs I inherited from them when they passed and treasure them. I also have a bedspread crocheted in ecru. It's so beautiful and intricate. It must have taken months or longer to finish it. I used it for a while, but was afraid it might get ruined. It's folded away in sheets now. Thank you for the post. It's brought back so many wonderful memories of my step-grandmother Sharp and my paternal grandmother Mammy.